Reenactment of Patrick Henry’s “Give Me Liberty” Speech

I was invited recently by St. John’s Church Foundation to attend at a private country manor the reenactment of Patrick Henry’s famous “Give me liberty or give me death speech” from the Second Virginia Convention held at St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia on March 23, 1775.

This convention passed the resolution that Virginia would form an armed militia to confront the tyranny of the British King, George the Third.  Among the delegates voting for this resolution were two future United States Presidents: Colonel George Washington from Fairfax County and Thomas Jefferson from Albemarle County.  The Second Virginia Convention was presided over by Peyton Randolph from Williamsburg.  The most notable antagonist to Patrick Henry at this convention was Edmund Pendleton, a delegate from Caroline County.  He even considered Patrick Henry’s arguments at the Convention to be treasonous.

If you are ever in Richmond, Virginia, I encourage you to visit St. John’s Church; Signer George Wythe is buried there.  During the summer months, you will be able to attend weekly performances of Patrick Henry’s speech.  The actors do an incredible job of putting its audience in a realistic 1775 timeframe.  DSDI is a supporter of St. John’s Church and very much appreciates its efforts to remind current Americans of how we evolved from British Colonies to the United States of America.

Lawrence “Laurie” Croft | Past President-General

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Message from the President-General | Reaching out to all DSDI members

Hello DSDI Members! I am thrilled to share the news how we are reaching out to our world. Thanks to your donations, we have started to create a fresh website that will draw thousands more folks of all ages who search information about our Declaration of Independence and its Signers.

About 13 years ago, DSDI members Jim Alexander and Hunter George began to build our first website. It was full of bright ideas and grand promises, all reaching fruition. That site has drawn tens of thousands of questions around the world. It became the foundation that we are now building to communicate online. Thank you again, Jim and Hunter! As we step into the future, Webmaster Alexa Scholl is leading a committee, working with an impressive and creative computer company, EZSolution. Thank you, Alexa!

To expand on our communication, it is an essential that you share your email so we can keep you informed and to add you to the Members Only section. If you haven’t yet, please take a moment and send your email to us at dsdiregistrar@gmail.com or to me below. Your opinions are important to us.

It has been an honor for me to lead DSDI for the past two years. Like our Signers, I was blessed by dedicated individuals, now their descendants who make this organization shine. Thank you all!

Hope to see you in Philadelphia for our July 4 celebrations with our Annual Congress.

Lucy Duke Tonacci, President-General | Ldtdsdi@gmail.com

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The Harrison Family: Vincennes to the White House

By Shirley Hunter Smith, Ph.D | Second Vice President-General, DSDI

The contributions and sacrifices made by the Signers of the Declaration of Independence are, of course, well-known, but less familiar are stories of descendants who carried on the founders’ legacy.  A great example is found in the family of Virginia Signer Benjamin Harrison.  Also of significance to the final outcome of the Revolutionary War were frontier battles fought in little known river outposts such as Vincennes, Indiana.  The town would become an important location in the development of the country and for the Harrison family after the war.

Vincennes was founded in 1732 by French Military Officer Francois Marie Bissot–Sieur de Vincennes.  The city was a French fur trading post situated on the Wabash River in what is now southwest Indiana.  The area was part of New France at the time, and a fort was erected to protect the abundant fur trade they had with the local Indian tribes from the BritishAfter the French and Indian War, the British took control of the post and the lucrative trade.  The fort became known as Fort Sackville or Fort Vincennes.

Forty-seven years later on February 25, 1779 George Rogers Clark and 170 militia from the Illinois Country, Virginia and a few sympatric Canadians seized Fort Sackville from the British and their Indian allies. The British force at the fort greatly outnumbered Clark’s volunteers, but excellent maneuvering by Clark’s men convinced the British they must surrender or the fort would be stormed by a much larger force.  Most of the citizens of Vincennes supported the Americans and aided them by providing dry gun powder for Clark’s troops.  Having marched 180 miles across Illinois in water that was as high as their shoulders in places, the militia’s powder was unusable.  The significance of the siege and surrender was a turning point in the Revolution.  The British were shown that a few American militia men could defeat British regulars even on the frontier.  The surrender gave the Americans the largest land grab of the war, securing what would become Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois.  A memorial was raised in Clark’s honor and an annual Spirit of Vincennes Rendezvous commemorates the victory to this day held over Memorial Day weekend.

Virginia laid claim to the entire land area their native son secured, and in 1781 gave it to the central government and it became the Northwest Territory.  Later the area was designated the Indiana Territory.  William Henry Harrison was appointed the first governor of the territory by President John Adams in 1800.  Harrison, born at Berkeley Plantation in Charles City, Virginia was the son of Signer Benjamin Harrison and his wife Elizabeth Bassett Harrison.  Harrison had a distinguished military career already, and his familiarity with the territory made him a solid choice.  Reminiscent of Berkeley, Harrison had a beautiful home constructed in the new territorial capitol of Vincennes that he named Grouseland, due to the abundance of the delicious bird in the area.

Harrison and his wife, Anna Tuthill Symmes Harrison, had several children, three of which were born at Grouseland.  William Henry Harrison became the ninth president of the United States in 1841, and the oldest President to take office prior to Ronald Reagan.  Anna was the oldest first lady to assume the role until our current first lady, Jill Biden.  Harrison’s March 4th Presidential inaugural address on a cold and inclement day, was the longest in history, lasting nearly two hours, and his tenure in office was the shortest in history, lasting only 30 days.  At the time it was thought Harrison died of pneumonia, but a 2014 study by Jane McHugh and Philip A. Mackowiak published in Clinical Infectious Diseases concluded he likely died due to septic shock from typhoid or paratyphoid fever.  It was found that the public sewage was upstream from the White House drinking water.   Harrison was also the first President to die in office.

John Scott Harrison was one of the children born at Grouseland to William Henry and Anna Harrison.  In 1812, the family moved to West Bend, Ohio where John represented Ohio in the House of Representatives during the mid-1850s.  His mother, Anna, also lived with John following William Henry’s death.  John married Elizabeth Ramsey Irwin.

To John and Elizabeth a son, Benjamin, was born in West Bend, Ohio, namesake of his great-grandfather.  He became a lawyer, Presbyterian Church leader, and politician and set-up his law practice in Indianapolis.  Harrison served first as a Colonel for the Union during the Civil War and was appointed Brevet Brigadier General of Volunteers in 1865 by the U.S. Senate.  He later served in the U.S. Senate for six years and became our twenty-third President in 1889.  When Harrison become President, his father John, now had the distinction of being the son and father of a U.S. President.  Benjamin Harrison married Caroline Lavinia Scott and had a son and daughter during their life together.  Caroline helped found the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) in 1890 and served as its first President General; the largest DAR Chapter in the state of Indiana bears her name.  Caroline died in 1892 of tuberculosis while Harrison was still in office.

Against his children’s wishes, Benjamin Harrison remarried four years after Caroline’s death.  He married Caroline’s widowed niece and secretary, Mary Scott Lord Dimmick, who was thirty-seven years younger than he.  They had one child together.  Benjamin Harrison died of pneumonia in 1901 and is buried at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis by his two wives.

The Signers of the Declaration of Independence left us a free country for which they endured great sacrifice, and what we see with the Harrisons is a family legacy of service to the United States generation after generation.  Ideals that began at a plantation in Charles City, Virginia in 1776 traveled to a frontier river town by the Wabash River named Vincennes and back east to the White House, onward to southern Ohio, returning west to Indiana, to the battlefields of the Civil War, and again back to the White House.  Vincennes, Indiana played a significant role in the outcome of the American Revolution, to the development of the Harrison family, and to the furthering of American ideals began by Benjamin Harrison and his fellow Signers.

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Thinking about DSDI’s future

What a happy celebration as we met in Princeton in October for our Fall Meeting! Thanks to hostess Nancy Wark and her husband Ray, many members with families and friends enjoyed each other. We met to eat and drink, travel and learn more about our Signers and their families. It was a beautiful weekend to explore Princeton and the American Revolution Battlefield. We missed those who couldn’t be with us.

I’m delighted to see DSDI moving ahead by using our website to register for the meeting, thanks to Event Coordinator Jill Haimes. Announcements came to members’ email through Secretary-General Donald Ward Jr’s transmissions with Nancy’s messages. In Princeton for our Board Meeting, we used Zoom as our new Webmaster Alexa Scholl controlled the computers with Nancy’s support. What a terrific team for our Princeton Meeting! Thank you, digital team, and for the work for our new treasurer, Bill Urbina, with guidance from Johnny Alexander!

One of the biggest decisions for our Board Members was to hire a company to redesign our website. Twelve years ago, members Hunter George and Jim Alexander set up our first website. As webmaster, Jim inspired us and our public who checked on our site many thousands of times to know about our Signers. We are grateful for the countless hours that Jim worked for us and the public.

We all sense the need for change. During our Princeton meeting, Alexa introduced several digital communications companies that could help us move ahead to prepare our website for the future. Jill checked on the site, observing that there had been more than 300 hits for those interested in our site that day. The Board voted unanimously for the Executive Board to interview one of the companies concerning rebuilding our site to make it more appealing to the public and to allow easier access for our members through Members Only. We’ll share details as we go forward, following our mission, teaching and reminding the public about our Signers. Please support us as we grow through our website.

Speaking of support, Annual Appeal Chair Shirley Hunter Smith sent out letters to each member in hopes that we’ll continue to improve our organization. We much appreciate any donation for website, scholarships, meetings or in general. There is no deadline, but we are grateful for any donation to DSDI.

Let’s meet in Vincennes, Indiana, in May 2022!

Sincerely,

Lucy Duke Tonacci

President-General

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DSDI gathers in historic Princeton

DSDI gathers in historic Princeton

As the old saying goes, “three is the charm.” After two previous plans were derailed by the pandemic, DSDI members enjoyed gathering in person Oct. 8-9, 2021 in Princeton, NJ for our fall meeting. Our host hotel was the Nassau Inn, which was historic, charming and right in the middle of Palmer Square in Princeton.

Friday evening, we had a delicious buffet dinner followed by an excellent talk on the Princeton Battlefield and the Thomas Clarke House. Our speaker was our very own Ben Strong, who happens to be the Vice President of the Princeton Battlefield Society. We completed our first evening together with the first ever Signers Trivia game and we all enjoyed the event but we quickly realized we need to learn more about all 56 Signers, not just the one we are related to. Thanks are given to our Governors who provided the trivia prizes.

Saturday, we boarded a bus for our visit to the Hart Homestead in Hopewell, NJ. The current owner, Jim Jeffers, was very informative and welcoming to us all. We saw the historic barn, the artesian well where water flows freely and learned about the housing of George Washington’s 14,000 troops on the land. We presented Jim with wine and our DSDI wine glasses and he loved his gift. We made a stop in Hopewell at the Baptist Old Meeting House Church Cemetery to pay our respects to Signer John Hart. Ben Strong very kindly provided a beautiful bouquet of flowers to place at the graveside.

Next, we were off to the Hopewell Train Station for a box lunch, meeting and roll call. We had a dozen Signers represented with John Hart having the most in attendance, including three very young Harts. DSDI made a donation for the ongoing maintenance of the Train Station of $150.

We toured the Princeton Battlefield and the Thomas Clarke House and our wonderful docent Will Krakower made us feel we were in the battle. Signer Dr. Benjamin Rush treated men fresh off the battlefield inside the Thomas Clarke House. DSDI was pleased to present a donation of $560 for the ongoing maintenance of the Thomas Clarke House.

Saturday night found us dressed in cocktail attire and after a year of Covid it was a treat to dress  up and enjoy being with our members. Following a lovely buffet, we had a visit from General George Washington himself.

Our thanks to members Adrienne Elliot and Randy Litzinger, who took many of the photos in this issue. More photos were provided by Jill Haimes, Bruce Laubach and Ray Wark. Our thanks to them all.

Nancy McBride Wark

1st Vice President General

Princeton Meeting Hostess

DSDI Members at the John Hart House

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Message from the President-General | DSDI Can Make a Difference

Dear DSDI Members,

What a change this year in Philadelphia as we celebrated together! Last year only one DSDI member was allowed to tap our Liberty Bell on July 4. This year, there were public lines waiting to get into the Liberty Bell pavilion, but we did not see a huge crowd all around the area as we have had in the past. We were missing some of our members but did enjoy each other. It was an honor for DSDI to be present at the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall’s Long Gallery. Once our annual meeting was done, I stood in the room where our ancestors signed their names on our Declaration of Independence. I always get a little teary there remembering what those 56 men said and did for us in that room in 1776.

Our obligation to meet together every year in Philadelphia is a part of our mission as we educate others about our ancestors. These days, part of our mission is difficult as we observe Signers’ names being removed at colleges, organizations, statues and buildings. We can object by phone calls, letters, emails and speak in meetings around the world. We can tell our children what our Signers did for us, and encourage them to remember their Signers. Yes, we can make a difference, particularly since we can do this together! We have much in common. Let’s continue to work together.

I’ve included my short speech below from the Liberty Bell celebration. To view the speeches and the tapping of Our Liberty Bell: https://fb.watch/v/1grAf_fwg/.

Fast forward for about 15 minutes and “Let Freedom Ring” will begin.

Can’t wait to see you all in Princeton in October!

Lucy Duke Tonacci

President-General

 

From the event

We much appreciate the invitation from the National Park Service and to work with the Pennsylvania Society of the Sons of the Revolution. 

In early June 1776, my fourth great grandfather, Richard Henry Lee, stood up in Independence Hall, right behind me, and made a formal motion that it was time to separate from Great Britain. He said, “Resolved: That these united colonies are, and of right, ought to be, free and independent states.” 

John Adams seconded that motion. Then there was a debate. There was concern. If those 56 men signed their names at the bottom of the Declaration of Independence, they might lose their lives, their family, their homes, everything they owned. But by July, they managed to work together–and stood together–to create our United States of America.

I honor these men. May we always remember what they did for us, and that we continue to support and defend this incredible country.

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Genealogy Records Return to the Colonies

For most of this century the DSDI Registrar-General’s records resided on the West Coast.  When Jim Alexander turned over the Registrar responsibilities to Wendy Davis-Bushey this summer, the records joined a multi-generational road trip from Jim’s home in Portland, Oregon, to Wendy’s home in Rockville, Maryland.

The Registrar transition happened to coincide with DSDI member Leah Bushey’s graduation from Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.  The new Registrar, Leah’s mother Wendy, and Leah’s grandparents, DSDI member Anita Davis and SOD (Spouse of Descendant) Steven Davis, made this an occasion to travel by RV from North Carolina to Oregon.  The records hitched a ride in a U-Haul trailer along with the college dorm room contents and camping gear on the return trip.  DSDI member and Leah’s sister Lauren Bushey also joined the group for the trek back.

The return journey began at the Alexander home in Portland, where approximately 200 cubic feet of documents and related Registrar materials were loaded into the trailer.  After a lovely lunch served by Jim and wife Ruth, the conversation revealed that the descendants of two New Jersey signers (Witherspoon and Stockton) had a common history of family migration to the West Coast.

From Portland, the documents followed the Columbia River and Oregon Trail briefly before the first stop in the foothills of the Washington Cascade Mountains.  Next stop was Post Falls, Idaho outside Coeur d’ Alene, a former English trading outpost, named by French fur traders.   From Kalispel, Montana, and Glacier National Park, through Yellowstone National Park, the records camped with the humans and Larry, the 15-year-old dachshund.  The intention of visiting Mount Rushmore in South Dakota was quashed by fog.  Fortunately, the nearby Crazy Horse Memorial was visible and the Lakota-Sioux history presentation there was exceptional.

Taking a road less travelled through native lands toward Nebraska, the group came upon an unexpected gem, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe Veterans Cemetery, the first Native American National cemetery, established in 2013 through a $7 million grant from the Veterans Administration.   The cemetery highlighted the patriotism and sacrifice of Native American veterans, particularly during World War II, the Korean, Vietnam, and Iraq wars.  The Rosebud Sioux Tribe claims the highest number per capita of veterans of any ethnic group.

By Memorial Day, the records were passing through Indianapolis along with the Indy 500 fans.  After a sprint through Kentucky, Tennessee and the Appalachian Mountains, the records safely arrived at their new home where their new caretaker will strive to live up to Jim Alexander’s legacy of dedicated service to DSDI.

Anita Davis

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DSDI Donation Means Historic Locke Book Available to the Public

DSDI has made it possible for the remarkable 1720 book of writings by English philosopher John Locke to be placed on public display.

DSDI provided an $1,800 donation in 2019 at the request of Independence National Historical Park.

Recently, during DSDI’s July Fourth celebration in Philadelphia, Lucy Duke Tonacci and her husband Mark viewed the book with Karie Diethorn, chief curator of Independence National Historical Park.

“I wanted DSDI to see what the book looked like and to learn more about it,” Tonacci said. “Making a donation was a wonderful way to promote our organization as we encourage the public to know more about us.”

The National Park Service was interested in having this book, “A Collection of Several Pieces of Mr. John Locke, never before printed,” meaning it was a first edition. In 1720, Benjamin Franklin would have been 14 years old as his thoughts developed in creating a new nation. He learned more then as an apprentice, printing for his brother in Philadelphia. It is likely that he had a copy similar to this book later in his sizeable library. The title page mentions that the book was “Printed…for R. Francklin” in an interesting coincidence.

The book was conserved and is now ready to be placed for the public to enjoy at the Benjamin Franklin Museum in Philadelphia. It will be shown with a plaque announcing that it was donated from the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.

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DSDI Celebrates a Return to Philadelphia for the Fourth of July

It was wonderful to greet each other in person again at the 114th Annual Congress in Philadelphia July 3-4, 2021. The Mayhew family planned and executed a remarkable weekend focusing on 10 students who represented their Signers. They traveled to Philadelphia with their families to tap the Liberty Bell.

On Saturday morning we honored the Tappers at breakfast at the Wyndham Hotel and gave them gifts including engraved model Liberty Bells for each student, provided by DSDI and the Pennsylvania Society of the Sons of the Revolution, presented by President Rich Pagano.

Our Bell Tappers carried the DSDI banner to and from the Liberty Bell, working with the National Park Service, speaking with the public and then performing a gentle, ceremonial tap at the ceremony. They were introduced by name several times during the weekend. DSDI is very proud of these 10 students and appreciates their families’ dedication.

On Saturday, the Board held a business meeting. Afterward, DSDI members walked to the Museum of the American Revolution. We had a private tour and focused on the tent George Washington used throughout the Revolution. It was wonderful to see our Signers in a 3-D display based on the John Trumbull portrait in the U.S. Capitol.

Members visited Christ Episcopal Church and its Burial Ground, where DSDI had given a granite bench honoring the Signers buried there. We visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art and enjoyed seeing one another again.

On Sunday afternoon we met at Independence Hall’s Long Gallery for our annual meeting. President-General Lucy Duke Tonacci introduced several DSDI leaders who presented their reports, including announcing 56 scholarships. Our members approved changes in our Bylaws and the nominations of officers.

We closed with a picnic dinner at the Wyndham, including a fascinating presentation by Shirley Hunter Smith, Ph.D., about our Signers’ wives during the colonial period.

Plan to join us in Princeton this fall for our next meeting in October.

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Moving Ahead Through Safest Choices

Hello DSDI Members!

As we make plans to meet each other in Philadelphia for the Fourth of July, we realize that our Signers must have felt many of the same concerns facing a pandemic.

Our Scholarship Committee drew attention to this topic when Chair Jill Haimes shared the essay question at our Virtual Oregon General Meeting March 13 by Zoom: “Looking back at the smallpox epidemic of 1775 to 1782, how might your ancestor have been affected by this epidemic?” The Signers, too, needed to find food and shelter in the safe places, avoiding the rampant smallpox while they met in Philadelphia. How did they feel when they gathered at Independence Hall? How did they send messages to each other through the safest circumstances?

We learned a lot about these situations during a long winter and hesitant spring, staying home, missing family, friends and coworkers. Many of our members worked together in committees by Zoom. We’ve become quite capable of having meetings, church services and cocktail parties via Zoom. It’s been remarkable for all of us to learn to use our computers and phones to reach out to others in new ways.

I thank all of our governors, committee members and board members who have supported each other in our many decisions and I invite all of our members to be involved. It has been a pleasure to visit each other through Virtual Trips. But honestly, I’d rather see you in person.

We are waiting patiently as we plan our Annual Congress in Philadelphia for the Fourth of July weekend. We do not know whether we will be tapping the Liberty Bell and sharing time together. The announcements will be made close to the meeting dates. We will be reaching out to you through our private DSDI Facebook page, in our DSDI website/Members Only, and by email to spread our news. I am confident that we will find a way to meet!

Meanwhile, join me in taking Covid shots so that we can shake hands together during a healthy, happy Fourth of July!

Lucy Duke Tonacci
DSDI President-General

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